Biological mechanisms for why killing coyotes/coywolves doesn’t work

This post is in response to 2 scientific publications that have recently been published in the journal Canadian Field-Naturalist. Essentially, these two papers describe two different scenarios where the killing of coyote(s) eventually led to more coyotes in a local area. Many people, especially hunters that I have talked (or argued) with over the years, are confused by this seeming contradiction. Many might logically think that “a coyote killed is a deer saved” (a very common saying in Maine, among other places) – however, nature is not so clean cut. See:

Way, J. G., B. C. Timm, and E. G. Strauss. 2009. Coywolf (Canis latrans x lycaon) Pack Density Doubles Following the Death of a Resident Territorial Male. Canadian Field Naturalist 123(3): 199-205.

Way, J. G. 2010. Double-litters in Coywolf (Canis latrans x lycaon) Packs Following the Death or Disappearance of a Resident Territorial Male. Canadian Field Naturalist 124(3): 256-257.

My personal opinion is that the North American model doesn’t really apply to predators, especially canids, given the negative (non-preservationist) opinion that many people have toward this ecologically important family. We have talked at length about this with wolves coming off the ESA but here we have an abundant canid, the coyote, that is literally allowed to be slaughtered for little reason other than either (1) “tradition”, (2) “that is what we have always done”, or (3) “their numbers will bounce back no matter how many are killed”. However, there are many important benefits of coyotes including ecological, aesthetic, ethical, and potentially economical (pest control) that are seemingly ignored while scores of coyotes are killed everywhere including by our federal government (i.e., Wildlife Services) – I eventually will elaborate on many of these positive attributes, with scientific documentation, during a different post to this site.

Additionally, many on this blog might wonder what a “coywolf” is. This is the name that I would prefer the “eastern coyote” to be called. I have previously co-published a paper on this genetic uniqueness of the eastern coyote (living in Northeastern North America: mostly in New England and New York) and am working on publishing a second paper further recommending the term coywolf. This term is still controversial and while some still prefer the term coyote for the canid living in the Northeast U.S., I am hoping this second paper provides further support for the coywolf nomenclature. Stay tuned…

While attaching a link for this genetic paper (below) leaves this post up for 2 different types of comments (1; genetics and 2; increase in density in populations following killing), I share that here too:

Way, J.G., L. Rutledge, T. Wheeldon, and B.N. White. 2010. Genetic characterization of eastern “coyotes” in eastern Massachusetts. Northeastern Naturalist 17(2):189-204.



, ,



  1. Ken Cole Avatar

    This is important work you are doing Jon. I enjoyed our tracking foray on Cape Cod Wedneday night. Those coywolves really are much bigger than your average coyote and it is amazing how well they are fitting in to such a densely populated area.

    Yesterday morning we tracked a pair to a wooded area less than a mile from the Kennedy Compound.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      Thanks Ken. It is important to realize that our “coyotes” here in the Northeast aren’t anything like western coyotes – hence, why I prefer the term coywolf. They have DNA from eastern wolves and thus retain some of the original genetic material from the wolves that lived here up until the past 150-200 or so years.

      What is interesting is that we likely had the eastern wolf and not the gray wolf in the Northeast original. So, when a western politician says, “why don’t you release wolves into Central Park for all those eastern liberals.” Well, that actually does happen as every year or two at least one coywolf makes it into the park. My guess is that they die from the massive amounts of rat poison that they eat.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        I should add that the rat poison might not be directly ingested by them but I bet they die from eating rats that eat the poison. And this happens in more places than NYC.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

          It occurs to me that ecologically speaking the coywolf is probably the most fit (best adapted) mesopredator in the northeastern United States as it exists today.

          1. Jon Way Avatar

            Absolutely. In the paper that I am working on I argue that the coywolf is more fit than either a smaller coyote or larger eastern wolf as it likely has a niche in between. That being said, I am not sure if I would call them a mesopredator as they are bigger than that. However, that term (mesopredator) is relative and in the southern part of the NE and in suburban areas they likely function as top predators whereas in the moose dominated North Woods they potential are mesopredators (either gray wolves or gray/eastern wolf hybrids would need to return to the North Woods to function like a true top predator as even eastern wolves are too small to effectively prey on moose).

  2. CodyCoyote Avatar

    We have a colloquial saying here in Wyoming: ” Kill a Coyote, and two take its place…”

    Many species including coyotes produce offspring based on the dynamic viability of their habitat. When there is plenty of food and security, a coyote will have a smaller littler. no point ins eeidng the landscape with future competitors I would guess, However, when threatened, the litters get larger in order to assure more survivors for future generations.

    It’s logical if you think about it. But not widely understood or appreciated , especially by those who don’t really like coyotes/ wolves and try to kill ‘ em all , indiscriminately , just because…

    That temporarily solves today’s problem with an individual predator, but might actually backfire by giving reason to birth to more pups down the road.

    Or as in my own personal experience when my local chapter of Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife had a local coyote bounty program for a few years, it directly allow the red fox and raccoon and skunk populations to grown and take the turf till the coyotes rebounded . 3 years later there were more coyotes than before, with litter-packs of higher numbers. The other mesopredators then declined in numbers along with 5 of our 7 outdoor cats, too, in exurban Cody Wyoming.

    The bounty was not successful as a long term ” solution” to the percieved coyote ” problem” by SFW. But that’s the mentality nevertheless.

    1. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      “Ethical trappers” can always send “Ethical Hunting Clubs” their surplus coyotes down south for dog training purposes. Several states have banned wildlife penning, others states allow coyotes to be ripped to shreds for hunter enjoyment…..just another illustration of hunters and trappers losing their way. It is important to point out that these practices are not indicative of a “larger moral issue” within the hunting and trapping community

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        I think that most hunters disagree with this practice (penning and hunting). And that is likely the only reason why more and more states are banning this practice. So, that is good and bad news – meaning that more states are banning them but likely only b.c a majority of hunters also disagree with the unethical practice… Of course, this has nothing to do with our discussion of science and the increase in local populations after getting killed…

    2. Jon Way Avatar

      Cody, you state:
      “Kill a Coyote, and two take its place” and “It’s logical if you think about it. But not widely understood or appreciated.”

      Those are important causes and the point of my post is we are now obtaining scientific data to explain why/how this might occur. In order for courts (since that seems to be the only way to change things with wildlife agencies) need documentation/evidence to make rulings, these papers add to the thought of why it is useless to kill coyotes (unless certainly individuals are “behaving” improperly – yes, that could be widely interpreted). But, importantly, it adds to our knowledge via peer reviewed science, rather than just anecdotes…

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        sorry, that should say important “comments” not “causes”.

  3. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    Wild canids I think could fit under the North American model but part of the problem is that there is more complexity with those species and often a lack of biological realism (upon which Jon Way, ma’iingan and other canid researchers are shedding light) combined with a greater mish-mash of potential management objectives to evaluate and sort out:

    1. Minimum legally required presence
    2. Maximum sustained yield (maximum annual number killed)
    3. Buying tolerance (applies mainly where re-introduced and heavily settled areas).
    4. Controlling impacts on hunted ungulates or other prey.
    5. Controlling economic damage (mainly agricultural).
    6. Controlling social damage (fear for safety, loss of pets, etc.).
    7. Sustained highest value yield (emphasizing highest tangible use as prime furbearers, trophy game, etc.)
    8. Ecological services
    9. Wilderness and natural aesthetic values.
    10. Direct wildlife viewing

    One might add even more. Some of these objectives are obviously not very inter-compatible within the same geographic area. However, one important question is “What is it costing and what are you accomplishing moving higher on the list?” Jon’s and other studies are very important in getting at that and it needs to be brought into public consciousness. Otherwise, the objectives may get pegged more toward 1 and 2 over very broad areas (based on rural public sentiment toward canids) even if in practice it provides very little benefit in accomplishing 4 through 6, while negatively impacting 10 and probably 7 through 9. In areas where there will be “harvest”, what really does it buy and cost in achieving 3 through 6, by managing with a goal of 1 or 2 versus 7? Where should various areas in Idaho or Montana or the Great Lakes states fit in and why? Those are the specific questions that should be asked and answered before the concrete sets too much around wolf management like it has western coyotes.

  4. John Maguranis Avatar
    John Maguranis

    Thank you, Jon for your information and research; we utilize your findings in our coyote management plan here in Belmont, Ma. While a lot of other communities struggle with the issue of coyotes, we have peacefully coexisted wirh them through education and our on-line tracking/location program. Many thanks to you for your efforts and research, and for being so willing to offer advice and insight regarding these beautiful animals. We ARE coexisting wonderfully and partly because of you! Keep up the great work…

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      Thanks John. I appreciate your good words and hopefully more towns/communities will rationally manage our canids whether they be coyotes, wolves, or coywolves…

    2. Nancy Avatar

      ++While a lot of other communities struggle with the issue of coyotes, we have peacefully coexisted wirh them through education and our on-line tracking/location program++

      Kudos John Maguranis to you and your community for making the effort to relate to (and live with) all aspects of wildlife.

    3. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      There is hope that states like Wyoming and Idaho can adopt a more “evolved” attitude toward predators like coyotes. States with the shoot on sight “vermin” policy says alot more about human ignorance than the animals they persecute.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        I agree William. Unfortunately, that would be most states not just WY and ID – altho they stand out b.c they basically feel that way about the coyote’s larger cousin just coming off the ESA.

  5. Jon Way Avatar

    You provide provide a good conundrum to canid mgmt and some of the conflicts. As we are seeing in the Rocky Mts and with Mark Gamblin’s comments, the people that wish for 1-6 are getting all the say in management plans while your list of 8-10 are largely ignored. One could argue, as JB’s recent paper describes that there are serious public trust issues if 8-10 are essentially ignored. Mark G. clearly makes the post that wildlife watching is not a direct mgmt action – he says it is unwarranted. Well, as I wrote to him recently on this blog, what about folks like Larry Thorngren – and there are more than just him, that want to view/photo these animals. The problem with canid mgmt is there are probably more non-hunters interested in canids then other animals like deer/elk.

    The point of these papers, as you suggest, if we can’t accomplish 1-2 on your list then to a degree, what is the point of allowing such of a liberal harvest. Especially for coyotes on federal/public land.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      I should add that there are also a number outfitted trips that are not hunting trips, but rather trips designed specifically to see the scenery and to see wildlife.

      For a Department of Wildlife or Fish and Game to ignore these popular outfitted trips and to cater only to hunters, whether hunting on their own or guided, is I think a violation of the public trust.

  6. Marie Shanahan Avatar
    Marie Shanahan

    Hello Jon,

    I am very thankful for your experience and how you have calmed concerns across New England regarding the coy wolves.

    But I am afraid that I am still slightly concerned. I am not an educated person in terms of animal behavior – especially wild animal behavior, so I do worry.

    I hear things like almost double in size (in some cases), smarter, much more aggressive and I can’t help but wonder if, at some point, down the line, they may become too used to being around us and they start to attack the very small or the very weak..? I’ve been asking myself this question and nothing I’ve seen online seems to answer it. Is it too soon to tell?

    Are there, or should there be, any “tentative contingency plans” in that way, as yet?

    Thank you.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      Hi Marie,
      Luckily I caught your message from this older post/thread… The key to coexistence is to not habituate wildlife like eastern coyotes/coywolves to us in the first place. Then they have no reason to associate humans with anything other than something else existing on the landscape. The vast, vast majority avoid us even while living in developed landscapes and that will likely always stay like that based on their natural tendencies/behavior.

      Management (ie, killing) of human habituated animals will likely always happen but is never that common. So the contingency plan is to teach and educate more people about their actual ecology and how to avoid interactions with occasional management and even killing them in areas (like downtown Boston) is controversial.

      It is important to remember that there are so many other dangers out there that they are a statistical non-issue even if there was an attack somewhere in the Northeast this summer. Millions of people are bit by dogs, etc, so keeping it in perspective for any animal is important.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        PS – In terms of attack “weak” (like child) humans. Those are usually the first to be attacked b.c they are smaller but it is important to remember that canids (dogs, coyotes, wolves) are generally cursorial (chasing) predators and we look nothing like their common prey. Probably one reason (among others like natural shyness) that it is more rare for a wild dog than a cat to attack (and not like cat attacks are common either).

  7. louise kane Avatar

    Hi Marie,

    Jon is the expert here but I might add that there is a great organization that I believe Jon is also affiliated with and you may want to look at the information on this site. Its called Project Coyote. If you type that into Google you’ll come up with their very excellent site.

    From a personal perspective, I run into coyotes (coywolves as Jon points out) from time to time where I live. I have never ever been threatened by them or felt threatened. We have a good population on Cape Cod, and often I see them at dusk or at night when walking my dog. I feel lucky to see these lovely, curious, and intelligent carnivores. I do keep my dog on leash at night to protect him, but domestic animals should always be in the owner’s control at all times and should never be allowed to harass wildlife or impact their habitat. Should you see a coyote take a moment to look at how beautiful they are. They are stunning. Unfortunately you probably won’t get a good look as they seem to be very shy.

  8. Nick Foro Avatar
    Nick Foro

    I love coyotes. Even thought I am a big bad hunter. I love how you totally neglected to mention how they are a invasive species. They have never lived in the north east until the 1930’s. But, more like the past 15-20 years. Weather or not they have an impact on native prey animals is unclear. But, it is well known that they out compete Red Fox and will kill ever single Fox they encounter. I truly think they don’t have and major impact on whitetailed deer. I as well as most of the country’s wildlife biologists have agreed that there is very little damage done by coyote hunting. They are by far the hardest and most elusive animal I hunt. They are special and I would hate to see them go away. Luckily for all of us they will never be hunted to extinction.


Jonathan Way is the author of Suburban Howls, an account of his experiences studying eastern coyotes/coywolves in eastern Massachusetts. He also has a business Eastern Coyote Research ( and is currently seeking an institution that will support him and his research. He currently works seasonally for Cape Cod National Seashore, is a part time post-doctoral researcher with the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, and is a frequent traveler to the Yellowstone area. He is currently seeking a publisher for 2 different book projects: “My Yellowstone Experience” and “Coywolf”, both of which are nearly completed including with pictures.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Jon Way